When I graduated from college with a Master’s Degree in Writing I was ready to write the Great American Novel, a few cover stories for Rolling Stone Magazine, and probably an Oscar-Winning independent film.
Looking back at my hubris, I can only shake my head. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting those things. In fact, it’s important to have long-term goals.
In my case however, I thought I should have all of these things immediately. When immediately turned into a year, two years, a couple babies, and a divorce later, I became panicky. My empty bank account let me in on the sad truth that in order to make a living I was going to have to write about *gasp* boring things.
Omigosh, boring things. healthcare, computers, vitamins, exercise, insurance, you know, boring things. Things my parents did.
I did not get to write about rockers with hot tattoos, or moody declarative statements about the world, or the Cannes Film Festival, or the tiny house movement, or if I did, it cost me more to research the article than I ever made from it.
What was I supposed to say about boring things? Yay, insurance. You pay too much and it’s boring. Vitamins: Healthy people take them. Boring. Fish oil and male enhancement supplements, eww (and boring).
I was a writer, a real writerly writer. I had deep stuff to say, epic stories to tell. But noooooooo, I had to sit at a desk and write about boring things.
I kept this attitude up for a year. Okay, three.
Then something happened. I dug in and started understanding and researching. Not the products themselves, but the stories. What the products did and how they made people feel. I stopped phoning it in and imagined life being better. Conflict. Resolution. Concrete words. Stories.
Suddenly the stuff I was writing wasn’t boring anymore. Not because insurance, vitamins, exercise, or missile technology is any more inherently interesting, but because I can make them interesting.
I didn’t ramble on and on, stating the same idea three times. Sentences were leaner due to the strict editors and creative directors with whom I worked, even though in the beginning I hated these boring people just like the boring things. But with their patience and insight they got me to the point where I could make toothpaste sound like a chapter in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. For that I will always be grateful.
Then the money came. Well, the numbers came first, as in people were responding to the copy in a way that made the analytics guy smile, so I got a raise. You know, that whole corporate, measurable results thing. That’s real if you actually have results to show.
MORAL: There’s no such thing as boring stuff, just bad writers.
HOMEWORK: If you want to be a better writer, pay your dues and, if you can, spend a few years writing about “boring stuff.”
In the process you will:
- Make more money
- Learn to employ more effective storytelling techniques
- Become a better editor
- Become a better researcher
- Write tighter copy
- Learn humility**
- Act less entitled**
*What I am would not be considered rich to some people. But I’m a writer and I pay my bills, so there’s that.
** I think the last two were more of a gift for the people around me, as these qualities made me more likable as a teammate, friend, mother, wife, adult, person, human being.